Student Research: Heather N. Fowler

, Environmental and Occupational Hygiene (EOHY), 2017
Faculty Advisor: Peter Rabinowitz

Assessing Safety Practices in Small Animal Veterinary Clinics


Abstract

Occupational hazards are an inherent risk present in all workplace settings. In the veterinary realm, these hazards are due in part to the human-animal interactions necessary to complete various job tasks. Previous work suggests that physical hazards, specifically animal-related injuries and needlestick and other sharps related injuries, are the most common injury types experienced by workers in the veterinary profession. Reducing the incidence of injury in this occupational group requires that one must first have a firm understanding of the worker, animal, and workplace environmental factors that precipitate injuries. One Health is an emerging framework that suggests the health of people, animals, and the environment are inextricably linked and thus must be assessed simultaneously in order to effectively address modern public health issues. In the animal care worker setting all three sectors of this paradigm are represented, in the workers, their animal patients, and the workplace environment, and thus application of a One Health approach is needed to understand fully the factors influencing injury incidence. Using this One Health approach, we have designed a mixed methods research study that assesses the factors that influence safety behaviors in the small animal clinical veterinary setting. A series of activities including a cross-sectional survey, focus group interviews and worker task observation were utilized to determine the human, animal, and environmental factors that influence physical injuries, more specifically animal-related injuries (ARIs) and needlestick/sharps injuries (NSIs) among members in the small animal veterinary workforce. Our study results suggest that human factors including interpersonal communication, altruism and self-efficacy as well as animal health and behavior, workplace safety culture and the presence or absence of other personnel and/or pet owners in the workplace setting can influence veterinary worker safety behavior. Task observation results captured evidence of veterinary workers participating in a number of activities that may predispose them to physical injury including recapping needles and moving and lifting animal patients, while in awkward positions. Overall, ARIs and NSIs were common among veterinary personnel with nearly 83% of participants indicating at least one ARI in their career and 65% of participants experiencing at least one NSI. Workplace safety culture was identified as an underlying factor influencing injury occurrence in both focus group interviews and the cross-sectional survey. Overarching themes from all activities suggest that improvements in workplace safety culture along with additional training in effective communication and animal behavior are needed to improve safety outcomes in this workforce. Thus, educational interventions that address these factors are needed to effectively eliminate barriers and leverage facilitators to safety practices with the ultimate goal of reducing the incidence of injury in this occupational group.